Can Christians Be Patriotic Without Being ‘Christian Nationalists’?
Yes, but there is one question that separates the two
We live in a day and age that highlights conflict, magnifies outrage, ignores nuance, and lumps everyone into camps and categories. This makes constructive conversations extremely difficult, if not impossible.
I’m hopeful this article will cut through that noise and division, but I’m not super optimistic.
One flashpoint in today’s Age of Outrage is the angry debate over “Christian nationalism.” It’s a term of course that means different things to different people. And quite often, any U.S. citizen who loves Jesus and waves the American flag gets lumped in with the “Christian nationalists.”
This isn’t to say that “Christian nationalism” isn’t a thing. It is. I just think it’s important to define our terms.
I reject any understanding of Christian nationalism (I’ll stop using quotation marks) that automatically associates patriotism on the part of people of faith with something sinister or nefarious.
I define “Christian nationalism” as the belief that the United States should legally become or operate as a Christian nation.
Now, here’s where the nuance comes in.
There are many Christians who love the United States and who believe that the American people should (voluntarily) embrace the gospel of Christ and/or live by and respect Christian principles. That does not necessarily make them Christian nationalists.
Indeed, many Christians hold views on public policy matters that are often influenced by or informed by their religious principles. This also does not make them Christian nationalists.
If it did, then many of our Founding Fathers were Christian nationalists. Consider these quotes:
- “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” — John Adams
- “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.of faith who also loves America.” — George Washington
- “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.” — Robert Winthrop
- “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” — Benjamin Franklin
I could keep going. There are many such quotes.
Virtually all of the Founding Fathers believed in God. A majority of them identified as Christian. And most believed (like Washington) that “religion and morality” were “indispensable” to the country.
And, in fact, some of the Founders did lean toward the Christian nationalist view. All of the original colonies and later states had officially established religions in some form and there were extensive debates over taxpayer support of the clergy.
But, by the early-to-mid 19th century, a consensus emerged as reflected in the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that religious freedom would be the rule of law in the United States of America.
The people were free to vote for people who shared their faith and values. And certainly, candidates for office could publicly embrace such values and principles. But the government itself would remain legally neutral and would respect the right of conscience and religious practice for all citizens.
That was the eventual consensus.
The question that separates Christian nationalists from Christians who simply love their nation is…
Do you support religious freedom?
Unfortunately, there are a growing number of professing Christians who oppose religious freedom (at least for non-Christians).
Of course, there are other issues at play, such as different perspectives or understandings of America’s past and its present identity. Not to mention issues of race when focusing on “white Christian nationalists” or differences among Christians themselves. But…
I’ve found that the question of religious freedom really cuts to the chase.
There are of course those (many of them hang out a lot here on Medium) who hate and despise Christians and would like to see all people of faith relegated to the sidelines if not permanent exile. I have no illusion about anyone in that camp reading this with an open or reasonable mind. Those who are in that camp will see any participation in the marketplace or public square on the part of Christians as being nefarious and something to be opposed.
There are also plenty of people (including here on Medium) who hate the United States.
I have nothing in common with either of those groups.
In fact, I oppose hatred, bigotry, and extremism on all sides and in any form. I believe we should be kind and considerate to all. And I support civil rights for all.
I believe Christians and non-Christians should have equal access to the marketplace and the public square.
Yes, I’m a Christian. And yes, I love the United States of America.
But I believe all citizens of the United States should enjoy the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of religion (including those who disagree with me).
And may the best ideas and policy proposals win.
If You Hate Anyone, You’re Part of the Problem
It doesn’t matter why you hate. If you hate, you’re wrong.
As a Christian, I understand that it’s the responsibility of parents to raise children. It’s not the government’s responsibility. And it’s the role of the church to proclaim the gospel of Christ. That’s not the government’s role.
I don’t need (or want) Congress legislating the Mosaic Law on the American public. And I don’t want the Supreme Court interpreting the Bible.
The government’s job is to safeguard our rights. It’s up to us what we do with those rights.
If you’re a Christian who believes more people should live like Jesus… great! I agree with you. But it’s not the government’s job to make people live like Jesus. It’s your job to tell people about Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do the rest.
Leave the government out of it.
This doesn’t mean the government should be completely value-neutral. All of our laws are based on values. All of them. And, yes, I believe in “In God We Trust” on our currency and “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance.
As the late Supreme Court Justice William Douglas once said:
“We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
That’s all well and good. But it’s not the government’s job to be the church.
The government isn’t the church.
And our Founders understood this. That’s why they institutionally separated church and state. Yes, I know that the separation of church and state stems from a phrase from a letter from Thomas Jefferson and that it’s not actually in the Constitution. I know that.
Jefferson was right. The government isn’t the church. And it’s not set up to be the church. So don’t try to make it the church.
All Christians should believe in religious freedom. At least when it comes to the civil law of the land. What a person believes (or doesn’t believe) when it comes to religion is between that person and God. It’s not between that person and the government.
And this is something that the majority of our Founding Fathers ultimately came to accept. It’s something we all should accept too.
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